Monday, February 13, 2006

Jesus breaks the law

Last night at church we had alook at a story in which Jesus heals a guy with a skin disease:

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.'
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 'See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.' Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
(Mark 1:40-45)
Every time I've read this passage recently I've wondered whether Jesus was joking when he told the guy not to tell anyone.

Where it says that Jesus was 'filled with compassion', apparently some of the manuscripts actually say that he was angry, except that it's hardly ever translated that way, because Jesus is supposed to be nice and civilised.
But it makes sense for Jesus to be angry. According to Moses' law, people with infectious skin diseases had to stay away from everyone else, and yell out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' wherever they went, so people would know to avoid them (Leviticus 13). Only a priest could say that someone was clean again.
So it's quite a serious thing for this guy to ask Jesus to heal him. He was asking Jesus to break the law. When it says that Jesus was filled with compassion, the Greek word used is splagchnizomai. It means something like, 'His stomach was churning,' or, 'He felt like he'd been kicked it the guts.' (Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary) So it's as though Jesus' body is pumping with adrenaline as he chooses to break the law by touching the sick man and declaring him to be healed. He says not to tell anyone, but to go and see a priest, and get declared legally clean. He doesn't want to be executed just yet.
But the guy starts telling everyone, and Jesus has to go out into the desert and hide, just like he would have if he'd caught the man's disease himself.

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